I have been following the news of the climate change talks in Copenhagen – mostly through friends of mine who are there – with growing interest. I have never really been a big believer that government or our political leaders are going to lead us to the solutions to the problems we face in the world – big or small. The culture they operate in – largely one of debate, negotiation and posturing – is very entrenched and makes it particularly difficult for them to shift.
If I only paid attention to the political conversations, it would be very disparaging indeed. However, the conversations that most capture my attention are around inner climate change. This is something we can all do something about – and must do something about!
This morning on Facebook, my friend Mitch Rhodes wrote: “at a gathering in Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about being on the winning side. With our hearts and minds we must firmly believe we are on the winning side and shift to that place with conviction and dignity. It’s an inner struggle as much as an outer struggle.”
He also posted: “Many activists/protesters have anger in their hearts. A theory U-activist holds the power of love in their heart and facilitates the emergence of a just future. Gandhi comes to mind as an example.”
I have been a proponent of Theory U since I first came across it in 2005. I say yes to being a Theory U activist, holding the power of love in my heart. The way to shifting the shape of the world in a conscious and intentional manner is by each of us putting our stake in the ground, changing our own thoughts and behaviours and understanding that our actions make a difference in the world and to the world – no matter how big or small. By our thoughts and actions we will attract others who are also willing to shift and by doing so, we will build a larger and larger field of resonance for the greater shift we want to enact in the world.
Will you be lost in the apparent hopelessness of this large scale global crisis or will you contribute to healing the world (and self to as it turns out) fully, with your heart, mind and soul, firmly believing you are on the winning side, shifting to that place with conviction and dignity? I will meet you on the winning side!
So, I know one day is not totally going to shift the shape of Halifax — however, it starts with shifting attitudes and this happened on Saturday, December 5 at Change Camp at the Halifax Hub. Sixty or seventy citizens of Halifax showed up in response to the question: What does Halifax as a vibrant city mean to you?
Using Open Space Technology throughout the day, fourteen exploration conversations happened in the morning and a number carried through into the afternoon developing some concrete steps. You can see the conversation topics here: Change Camp
Examples of shift: one of the groups wanted to talk about the vacancy rate on Barrington Street and how to revitalize this key downtown street. They realized there wasn’t much they could do about filling in empty building spaces but, after venturing out and taking pictures of the street, they did realize there was lots they could do to bring renewed vibrancy to the street itself. Shift in attitude. Shift in perception. This is just one of the many examples of ideas generated with action steps attached.
At the end of the day a number of participants reflected on the diversity in the room, the energy that remained high throughout the day and the renewal of hope. One older man reflected that he came with cynicism, fully expecting to leave at noon and now he was leaving at the end of the day feeling energized and renewed.
The people in these Change Camp conversations really sunk into the idea that if there is to be a renewal of community and a vibrancy in Halifax it comes from citizens – ordinary people who care about the place where they live and work and are really beginning to understand that that caring needs to show up as action – even small steps can leverage a large shift.
Kudos to Emily Richardson, a young, relatively new arrival to Halifax, whose imagination was captured by the idea of hosting a Change Camp and, because of this, magnetized the resources and assistance she needed to create an amazingly successful day – and to the Hub a truly inspired meeting place in downtown Halifax.
There is a new phenomenon in our world called H1N1. The news stories are all around the vaccine: availability of the vaccine, getting vaccinated, vaccination clinics, who has priority in being vaccinated, reactions to the vaccine, H1N1 assessment clinics, how many people have been hospitalized, how many have died, the cost of delivery, the pandemic nature of this flu.
There is an untold and evolving story around H1N1. It is the story of innovation, breaking down silos, working across departments, flattening of decision making structures, team engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done regardless of job description and everyone pulling together to face down the issues created by what is being called a pandemic – at least here in Canada.
Being around a lot of health care folx because of my work and being in frequent conversations about engagement, we began to muse about the level of engagement of health care folx, in particular, in the pandemic planning and the delivery of the vaccine. We came back to a familiar question: What is it about a crisis that brings out a sense of community, the power and clarity of a common goal, necessary resource allocation and alleviates common arguments, bickering or turf protection around role and resources?
How can we create these conditions in times when there is no crisis is often asked? We are operating from the premise that it is possible to create the same conditions without a crisis. During this particular conversation I began to entertain the question, what if it isn’t possible to fully recreate the conditions of crisis? For instance, the province of Nova Scotia has made available millions of dollars for the roll out of the H1N1 vaccine. Without the compelling argument of needing to control a pandemic outbreak of illness, as a for instance, what else other than crisis would so easily and readily garner financial and human resources. One of the reasons there is normally turf protection is because when we don’t have crisis the experience is that we have more limited resources and people have to advocate for their share of budget.
My question changed. Given that responding to the H1N1 crisis has temporarily transformed the relational field of how people are working together, what would it take to maintain some of the shift that has occurred and embed it in the organizational culture instead of allowing things to drift back – or spring back – to the way things have always been done – which is likely what will happen when the H1N1 pressure is off? How do we capitalize on the shifted shape of the relational field to allow operation along this chaordic edge or chaordic path all or most of the time?
There is an interesting opportunity here. As the pressure of crisis eases, will the lessons learned include new new ways of working together and the minimalization of structures and processes to support that?
The Indo-European root of the word lead and leadership (leith) means to go forth, to cross the threshold or to die.
The challenges we face in the world right now – the big world or our own smaller worlds – are pressuring us to see differently, to sharpen and deepen our attention and to cultivate our capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate – the place of presencing in Otto Scharmer’s U Theory.
So, why is it that so many of us – leaders in our organizations and our communities – protest the investment of a few days completely away to engage in stillness or reflective practices that enable and build the capacity to see and then cross the inner threshold that shifts the shape of individuals, organizations and communities? And, why are those of us who see the need and know the benefit reluctant to specifically request or recommend this to other leaders we know?
Have we fallen into the trap of limiting beliefs – believing it is not possible to invest this time, that people won’t make the investment or commit the time or that it truly is impossible for leaders to turn off the electronics and their accessibility even for a few days?
Is this a blind spot we need to illuminate? Is this a reflection of the inner landscape that needs to shift in order to be available to the future that is wanting to happen?
Our awareness and our consciousness determines the qualities of our actions and results. In Theory U, Scharmer asks: How can we renew our culture so that every human being is considered a carrier of a sacred project: the journey of becoming one’s authentic self?
As long as we aren’t ready to face and confront the inner abyss, we will stay stuck in the patterns of thinking, behaviour and action that have generated our current results, results that many agree do not support the sustainability of the earth or our current lifestyle – on an individual and collective basis.
If we could truly see the value of shifting the shape of our inner world, knowing it would allow us to cross the threshold into a more integrated way of being with a more responsive capacity to work successfully with the institutional and systemic crises we are faced with, wouldn’t even a significant amount of time – not just days but weeks or months, on an annual basis – become a worthwhile investment?
What is the renewal of hope and inspiration needed to compel us into this pursuit of the sacred project – the journey of becoming one’s authentic self – to understand that as our inner self shifts we build the capacity, individually and collectively, to tune into, more frequently and in greater numbers, the future that wants to live through us, more becomes possible and maybe our very future depends on it.
If studying and learning from the past only serves to create more of the same problems we are experiencing, as Otto Scharmer eloquently presents in his book Theory U, and the way to a different future is by sensing into and connecting with future possibilities – a view, by the way, supported in much of Peter Block’s work around Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, what is required to shift us – individually and collectively – into living into an emergent future rather than one that flows from the past?
This question excites me. Intuitively I completely get it – even as I work to get my head around it well enough to explain it to others and to live more fully into it in my life and work.
It requires tapping into new or underused leadership skills and capacities like activating intelligences in addition to cognitive – the intelligences that come from an open mind, open heart and open will.
Shifting the shape of leadership – internally and externally is the most significant struggle I witness in the people, teams and organizations I speak to and work with.
In Theory U, Scharmer speaks about the social field which he describes as the totality and type of connections through which the participants of a given system (organization, community, family, social network) relate, converse, think and act. When there is a shift in the social field, people connect with a deeper source of creativity and knowing and move beyond the patterns of the past. When this happens it is a memorable moment. It results in outcomes that include a heightened level of individual energy and awareness, a sustained deepening of one’s authenticity and personal presence and a clarified sense of direction as well as significant professional and personal accomplishment. It is felt individually and collectively. And it has been far too rare an occurrence in the past, sometimes because it feels elusive rather than something you can create or co-create with intentionality and sometimes because it almost doesn’t seem real.
What does it take to more permanently shift the social field? Awareness. Intentionality. The willingness to hold the space for this to happen and emergence to occur. Presence. Things that now and in the past we often say we don’t have time for because the business at hand is too pressing. We need results! Current leadership practices and organizational and social culture do not support creating the conditions to sense into and connect with future possibilities and this is the point of resistance and struggle in many organizations right now. Individuals see it, sense it, come close to it, yearn for it and then the risk feels too great to step partially or fully into needed new leadership practices.
Scharmer says the essence of leadership is to shift the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively. It may well be the single most important leverage point for shifting the social field in this century. This is enormously exciting to me as I am more and more boldly emphasizing growing capacity through self-awareness, personal and, dare I say, spiritual journey – however that shows up for people.
How can we learn to better sense and connect with future possibilities that are seeking to emerge? Presencing is one means of sensing, tuning in and acting from one’s highest future potential – the future that depends on us to bring it into being. There are many avenues to presencing, individually and collectively. A few of them: meditation, physical exercise like running, mindfulness in any activity including walking, connecting to nature, yoga, Aikido and Shamanic practice. Any practice that requires us to activate a different source of intelligence: the intelligence of the heart, which gives us much greater capacity to listen into the emerging field of the future.
I know this experience of listening into the emerging field of the future. It is what happens when I follow the energy flow of intuition around work, life and the things that matter most in my life and journey. It is what happens when I am willing to let go and let come, when I can let go of attachment (or at a minimum identify it when it shows up) and surrender completely into what is wanting to happen (instead of trying to direct it or manage it).
Taking a note from Scharmer’s work on Theory U, I am immersing myself in this study and will start by observe, observe, observe, then retreat and reflect, then act in an instant. I am deeply curious about the future I am sensing into and connecting with and what magic will emerge for me and others as I do so.
Story. Story telling. It defines us. It defines our culture – home, work, community, other. Through the stories we tell we point to where our focus is and we get more of what we focus on. Much of our story telling is unconscious – we tell our stories without thinking about them or their impact – on us, on others.
What if we told every story from a place of consciousness and intentionality, understanding the power of story and how it shapes our experience, our relationships and our world? What stories would you choose to tell with intentionality? What stories would you stop telling? How would some of your stories shift and change as a result?
We make sense of ourselves, our journey, our relationships, events that happen to us, the places we work, through story. We cannot move on from our experience until we have integrated it through story and, most often we need to be witnessed – which is why we verbalize our story to others.
Story is the basis of sustaining relationship. We cannot know another person until we know their story and often, once we do know their story, everything shifts – from interacting with “those” people to interacting with living, breathing human beings where soul, the sacred and magic can enter.
Every story counts. Every story serves to put positive or negative energy into your interpersonal field.
Your stories define you. Sometimes we are attached to certain stories we tell – especially the ones we tell over and over again. Are you attached to a story in your life? Does it serve you in being the best you can be? In living an inspired life? If not, how can you shift the story you carry to shape a more powerful experience and build capacity – for you and for those around you?